‘Solving the Unsolvable’

Kristen Mittelman, B.S. ’00

Alumna’s Company Cracks Cold Cases

When tragedies occur, one of the things that helps individuals move forward is closure. Unfortunately, most families of unsolved crimes never receive this conclusion, until now. 

Kristen Mittelman, B.S. ’00, and her husband are working to break through the limitations of DNA testing and solve crimes once considered unsolvable. Kristen is a Baylor chemistry graduate who now serves as chief development officer for Othram, a company that analyzes degraded or lacking DNA samples. The couple started the company in 2018 and the impact of their work has grown — so much so that Othram is in contact with law enforcement daily as they receive results. Their work has helped identify remains or solve crimes across dozens of states, many of them dating back to the 1970s or earlier. 

“We’re often the last hope,” Kristen said on TODAY. “Every time they give you that last bit of DNA or that last bit of evidence, that is someone’s last chance of being identified, and someone’s last chance to get justice for what happened to the person they lost … I think this could be a deterrent for crime.”

While most DNA testing utilizes around 10 biomarkers for comparison — and CODIS, the national DNA database for the U.S., is based on 20 markers — Othram uses hundreds. Forensic Magazine described Othram as “the world’s only laboratory purpose-built to combine genome sequencing with advanced human identification applications. The laboratory is also the first facility in the United States or Canada offering end-to-end, in-house processing from forensic evidence to forensic genetic genealogy leads.”

The Mittelmans are hopeful that the work they’re doing has a lasting impact and possibly even prevents crime in the future.  

“I think we’ll live in a world where there are no backlogs,” Kristen said. “I think this will become a deterrent for crime. I think if you left DNA at a crime scene, it’s a matter of time before someone like us, or us, processes that crime scene.” 

Othram’s opportunities to do just that are expanding. Congress recently voted to fund this type of work, and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System recently partnered with Othram to apply and advance their tools to reconnect missing or unidentified individuals with their families.